For its data on Amazon, JPL switched on load balancers to move data between zones as necessary. "Previously, network engineers would have been needed to do that kind of planning; now app developers can put in these measures themselves via point and click," Soderstrom says.
There have been hiccups along the way, such as trying to match the application to the cloud service. "Cloud services used to be a relationship between a provider and a business leader with a credit card," Soderstrom says. Now, "we make sure IT is involved at every level," he explains.
To accomplish this, JPL has standardized its cloud provisioning overall, creating an online form that business leaders and developers fill out about their project. Based on pre-set templates created by IT, their plain-English answers to questions such as "are you going to need scalability?" and "where is your customer and where is your data?" guide which cloud service and the level of resources they will need.
The move to self-service provisioning has meant retraining system administrators to be knowledgeable about cloud-use cases. Also, IT security staffers serve as consultants for the cloud environment, vetting and hardening operating system and application builds.
Though this sounds like a complicated evolution, Soderstrom says the technical challenges presented by the cloud have been easy compared with the legal ones. Legal is front and center in all negotiations to ensure appropriate licensing, procurement and compliance deals are struck and adhered to.
In all its cloud contracts, JPL includes language about owning the data. In case of service shutdown, a dispute or other agreement termination, the provider must ship all data back on disks, with NASA picking up the labor tab.
Overall, though, Soderstrom says he is glad he made the leap. "Cloud is changing the entire computing landscape and I'm very comfortable with it. Nothing has been this revolutionary since the PC or the Internet."
Tips for getting to the cloud
- Know what should go where: If you require a more controlled environment for your data, consider building a hybrid cloud using internal servers and shared dedicated cloud infrastructure. Doing so enables you to track where data lives without having to manage a sprawling data center.
- Understand your licensing: Some companies are unwittingly getting double-charged by software companies and service providers for application, operating system and other licensing. Double-check your contracts and if yours doesn't include cloud architecture, then renegotiate with your vendors. Consult with your cloud provider because it might have an in-place deal with software makers. Also, as NASA's JPL advises, make sure to involve your legal team in all service agreements.
- Stay involved: Sending your applications to the cloud might free up infrastructure and administrators, but IT still has to keep a close eye on critical elements such as security, integration, configurations, updates and disaster recovery. Multinomah County regularly meets with its SaaS provider to ensure proper communication and support levels.
- Missing something? Don't be afraid to ask: Cloud providers are eager to please and want your business. Inform your cloud providers when a feature or functionality is absent from your service or platform. If you need load balancing, a provider probably will support that for you without much additional cost.
- Seek support: You can offload cloud management to a third party if it is too onerous for your in-house team. For instance, some cloud providers will handle round-the-clock technical support of environments hosted in the Amazon cloud.